Career management book update: 02

Since my first, and most recent book update a couple of weeks ago, the beginning stages of my book have picked up considerable momentum (…than expected at least). As a follower of a number of writers, I always hear them talk about how a story has organically taken an unexpected turn, and while I don’t see myself as being awesome as they are, I now understand what they mean.

I left off my last update having completed the mind map with my Post-it notes, categorised them into chapters and I’ve taken the next steps of writing a summary for each of these chapters. This became a much bigger task than I expected but in a pleasantly surprising way – I have noted a lot more information than I first thought under each chapter, so much so that each chapter has a number of sub headings. This has added a considerable amount of clay to the pipe-cleaner.

But from these concepts grew two more tangents. At first I considered these to be completely separate entities – perhaps book two and three? But when rolling with those concepts, and beginning the research phase of the book by reading leading books on similar topics, I’ve come to realise the three seemingly separate elements are ultimately and fundamentally interdependent. So why was I keeping them apart?

Cue my book growing 150% bigger! Which is good for two reasons: one, readers won’t feel they’re only getting part of the picture, subsequently still having questions unanswered; and two, I won’t need to rely on ghost pages to pad out the book (this is a particular bugbear of a writer-friend of mine so I wouldn’t want to upset her!).

So while I’ve progressed considerably with my initial idea, I now need to do a similar Post-it mind map for the two other ideas, and make sure they cohesively work altogether, before summarising the remaining chapters.

Ask (guest article)

“Get what I want ’cause I ask for it,
Not because I’m really that deserving of it” 

If you are a fan of Marina & the Diamonds, you have probably heard this wildly popular track. Outside of being a fun track to dance to, it does offer some very valuable life lessons. My favourite lesson though is the one captured in the above sentences. It is one I thankfully learnt very early in my career, have reaped immense benefits from and am constantly encouraging everyone else to do.

My first ever job began by shadowing an HR Business Partner (HRBP). For two weeks, all new college hires (including me) were assigned to an HRBP each. Our responsibilities comprised of following the HRBP, observing their daily activities and helping them where possible. At the end of the two weeks, we were allocated to our respective teams. I was assigned to be a part of a newly formed team that was responsible for all company-wide HR projects and programmes. I had just emerged from an enjoyable experience of shadowing an HRBP and no intention of doing anything other than be an HRBP myself. Therefore, with my usual self-assured college confidence, I walked into the hiring managers’ cabin and let him know exactly what I wanted to do.

As I put forward my request to be an HRBP, rather than be allocated to my team, I saw a number of emotions run past his face beginning with shock, surprise and then transitioning into amusement at the impertinence of it all. For a few fleeting seconds, I felt like I had made my first career mistake. Fortunately, for me he had sufficient influence and a good heart. He started by saying that he had never before seen someone within the first few weeks of their career turn down a team. He asked me to wait, and within a few weeks, I was an HRBP.

I sometimes wonder how different my life would have turned out had I never asked.

Post the success of that request, I can quote numerous instances where I shed aside inhibitions and asked for things not normally asked for. I have, as a result, received invitations to conferences, access to training, budgets for projects, sponsored flights and more.

As one of my previous managers said, “Always ask for what you want, even if you think it is impossible to receive. What is the worst that can happen? They’ll say no.”

I very quickly learnt that the inhibitions we create in our heads are always larger than those that really exist. Asking for what you want is a competitive advantage in today’s world. Not enough people are asking. That alone increases the likelihood of requests being granted.

There are two important parts to this competitive advantage which are firstly asking and then explaining the rationale behind the request. You thought it was as easy as just asking, didn’t you? As important as it is to ask, the other half of making a successful request is to understand why you want what you want and translating it into a language that others understand. Of course, there are a few other factors such as the right time for a request and so on. However, those are good to consider but not an absolute necessity.

I love challenges and hence here is one for you: think back over the past year and mentally note the opportunities that you potentially missed as a result of not asking. Think over the next few weeks and identify opportunities that you would like but have been hesitant to ask for before. Start small. Very soon, you will realize that it is actually a very simple thing to do. If you have been asking for a while, consider snowballing it into a larger request.

Asking is liberating and an extremely fulfilling exercise. It is the best way to avoid the multiple ‘what if’ questions that haunt us throughout life. It is not a career-limiting move. If anything, it pushes your career forward faster than ever before. It is also one lesson that translates seamlessly from your work life into your personal life.

So tell me – what are you going to ask for next?

Ankita Poddar Bio

This has been a guest article written by Ankita Poddar, an HR professional based out of India. Identified as one of the emerging young HR leaders in India in 2016, Ankita’s experience as an HR Business Partner gives her the opportunity to work closely with business leaders, innovate and execute on the behalf of customers especially in areas of people analytics, employee engagement, rewards and recognition and performance management. Ankita blogs about all things HR at The HR Business Partner Story site. You can follow her on Twitter.

Would you like to write an article for The Avid Doer? Check out this link for more info.

No dramas – Resilience at work

There’s a lot of stuff out there on building resilience which suggests it’s an arduous step-by-step process of laying down the foundations before you can even begin to feel the benefits.

I much prefer the concept and practice of maintaining resilience. What is a simple language shift means that my perspective has shifted to my existing resilience and I just need to take the reins and follow it through.

I’ve read an excellent piece by Barry Winbolt – trainer, coach and psychotherapist – on resilience in the workplace, explaining that this is an active, not passive process. This means it requires ongoing effort and conscious decisions.

The article includes an eloquent quote from Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba’s book Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you (American Management Association, 2005) about the attitudes that come with resilience:

“Simply put, these attitudes are commitment, control, and challenge. As times get tough, if you hold these attitudes, you’ll believe that it is best to stay involved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than to give up, and to try to discover how you can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate.”

What challenges are you avoiding or struggling with? Identify these challenges and, as Winbolt says, “develop the habit of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills”.

The Avid Doer Revamp

I have often written about how important it is to assess your progress towards a professional goal in order to make sure you’re on track, or ascertain if the goal has developed into something new.

I’ve also written about how beneficial extracurricular activities can help you develop professionally, and how these help you learn in an environment outside of work, as well as proving your dedication to the field.

I’ve been assessing where I’m at with The Avid Doer for quite a while now, and how it’s helping me reach my professional goals. Doing this in my free time as an extracurricular activity means that time spent on it has to be the most efficient.

As such I’m excited to let you that the site is going to have a revamp.

The look, the content, the layout – all updated and refreshed.

I’m chuffed to bits with how far this has come and how it’s built a strong worldwide readership.

I just need to tweak the core message slightly in order to help those who visit the site, as well as help me learn and develop as an HR/L&D professional.

When the curtains have been lifted to reveal the revamp, I’ll tell you more about what its new aims are but rest assured it will still focus on skills, learning, development and career management.

Time wise, I’m not too sure how long it will take but there will be a slight pause for a bit with my weekly articles, just so I can get it right.

I’ll still be over on LinkedIn and Twitter in the meantime so hop on over there if you want to say hi.

Stay tuned and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!

 

Professional development while unemployed

I’ve written a lot about what we as fellow avid doers can do to manage our careers and progress professionally, and while I’m a strong believer that with the right attitude anyone can manage their career with confidence, it struck me that there may be a group of people that feel as though this blog doesn’t apply to them – those who are currently out of work.

Now this post doesn’t go into the ins and outs of being in between jobs. The reasons for being out of work are specific to each individual.

Sometimes it’s voluntary, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s a happy experience, sometimes it’s not.

You may be on a career break or maternity leave; you might have been made redundant or left to pursue a career change; you might have decided to spend more time at home to look after your children or might not be well enough at the moment to be working.

So with the multiple reasons and viewpoints on unemployment, I couldn’t possibly begin to write about them.

What I can do though is remind you that if you are in between jobs at the moment, this blog is absolutely for you.

Granted there are a couple of posts that walk you through presentations or writing a business case that you may not be able to put into practice immediately but these are still soft skills that you can put in the bank if and when you return to work.

The majority of the posts can still benefit you. I want to dedicate this post specifically to those who are in between jobs at the moment to explain what you can do to manage your paused career.

Keeping up with the industry

If you are keen to get back to work whether in your current field or a new one, keeping up to date is absolutely essential.

Keeping your finger on the pulse and being kept in the loop with the industry keeps your interest fired which is at risk of dwindling if you’re out of work for too long. You’ll understand what the hot topic du jour is (which can change on a daily basis these days!) so that if you return to work you’re not out of touch either in the workplace or at the interview stage.

Community

Adjacent to the above point, surrounding yourself with the industry’s community while proactively maintaining your spot in it will help you combat the loneliness that comes with being out of work.

As social creatures we need to be surrounded by people, or in career terms, our ‘tribe’. Even us introverts need this (just in different quantities) so by maintaining a strong position within your career community and contributing to it via social media or networking events, you get to have this same social interaction as if you were at work.

As with being part of any ‘tribe’, doing this will also keep your perspective broadened as you hear people’s opinions and experiences on industry matters.

Volunteering

A step further from the previous point is keeping your skills and social interaction sharp by volunteering.

Now, when I heard ‘volunteering’, I used to immediately think of working in a charity shop which doesn’t really float my rubber duck. By no means am I saying this is a bad thing at all; I’m suggesting that many others out there may be thinking the same and feel as though that’s their only option.

It isn’t.

There may be many volunteering opportunities in your local area and the first port of call should be Do-It, the UK’s national volunteering database. You simply enter your postcode or town, the distance you’re willing to travel, and hey presto, you have a list of all your local volunteering opportunities.

I live out in the sticks and a 10-mile radius search for me brings up 238 results.

Don’t want to travel? No problem – select the ‘Do it from home’ option and you’ll usually find even more results.

Be sure that you don’t want to forego the opportunity for the social interaction volunteering provides though as this is something particularly important when you’re out of work. Missing out on socialising that you would normally find on a daily basis at work can lead to mental health issues like depression or low self-esteem.

The volunteering opportunities cover all sorts of skills, requirements and experience. For example, this can be from administration support to being on a board of directors.

There are other volunteering databases out there that focus specifically on the community and your local area, for example Volunteering Matters.

Volunteering is particularly great for those who lack certain experience, for example managing people, but have the correct aptitude for it; these opportunities may allow you to become a volunteer people manager (for a project, or wildlife excursion for example) and thus bring something new to your CV, skillset and future employer.

Being heard

If you enjoy writing, you may want to consider starting an industry-related blog, or if you’re a born entertainer, a vlog, or have a silky smooth radio voice, a podcaster, etc.

I’ve written about this before in my post on developing professional credibility – it’s such a boost to your professional development as you learn a lot about yourself and the industry.

You should have the intent of being heard as a profession contributor rather than looking for a money-maker.

Figuring out new and interesting content can be hard work but it’s also really rewarding. You’ll find yourself researching new topics to strengthen your content, learning heaps from the blogging/vlogging/podcasting/etc. community, as well as demonstrating to new employers your dedication to the profession and your career.

You can find LOADS of tips out there on YouTube and the like about starting any one of these up, but nowadays I’ve discovered that it’s important to remember 4 things:

  • You don’t need to be an expert – you’re perspective is uniquely your own
  • You don’t need fancy equipment – despite the shininess…
  • It’s incredibly easy to set up – technology today makes this ridiculously easy now
  • Procrastination is your enemy – just get it out there and stop faffing with the tiny details!

Courses

Enrolling in a course – whether it’s paid (local college course or distance learning), or free (check out MOOCs out there like FutureLearn) – is another way to keep your skills sharp, while also learning new ones.

If you haven’t already, check out my post on training courses here and here which explain this in more detail.

Re-assessing your career

Taking a breather from work from whatever circumstances gives you an opportunity to think with a clearer head.

In this new headspace you may want to consider a career change and decide which new direction you might want to take.

Transferring your existing skills into a new field is easier when you break the components down and clearly define any skill gaps that need filling.

Check out my 5-post series on discovering which career is right for you. Start with this one and then click ‘Next’ at the bottom of the post until you’ve worked your way through the 5 part series.

(Have you noticed this post has a lot of plugging for my own posts? Told you this blog was relevant to those out of work….#JustSaying)

Starting your own business or side hustle

Spending time out of work may be an opportunity for you to explore starting your own business. This could become a side hustle if you decide to return to work to fund the business until it’s providing enough income, or if you’re happy working on both within a portfolio career.

I realise I say this in such a blaze way – I understand it isn’t easy. I’ve made a go of it a couple of times and it can be demoralising when things don’t happen the way you want, whether that’s not enough money, not enough confidence or losing interest in doing something that sounds fun as a hobby but is torturous doing it all day every day.

I would recommend learning from people who have made a success of it and especially from those who made a number of failures beforehand. These can be found all over the internet and local bookshop.

How to take this forward

By this point hopefully you should be getting a clearer picture on how to keep your career wheels turning even when you’re out of work.

As an added bonus, these are all perfect examples of professional dedication and career management that you can demonstrate in interviews. There may come a point in the interview where you will have to respond to their questions on a job gap.

Usually, this can make people feel uncomfortable but by following the above suggestions, you’ll be able to give them the full itinerary of all the things you’ve been doing while in between jobs. They’ll see someone very self-aware, very busy and very determined.

I must add a huge disclaimer here though before you do anything: check with the appropriate people/officials that any of these activities do not contravene conditions set on your employer’s policies (if you’re on a type of leave) or those set within your receiving of benefits/jobseekers allowance. Please seek professional advice if you are in doubt of these conditions.

 

 

Persevere with perseverance

We avid doers aren’t afraid of doing things to get things done. We know what we want and we know what to do to get it. We roll up our sleeves and through grit and determination (and sometimes a bit of stubbornness) we do what is necessary to achieve our goals.

Nothing breaks our spirit…well, assuming it happens in the time we anticipate.

In our quest for managing our careers and developing our professional skills, the excitement of achieving our goals can sometimes be hampered by not managing our expectations. If the results aren’t as expected (whether it’s outcome, or time, or focus etc.) we lose perseverance, we have a change of heart and question whether to carry on or not.

Or is it just me?

Personal reflection

I am notoriously impatient; always have been, always will be. It has its advantages but in terms of perseverance, my impatience somethings gets the better of me and makes me question my efforts in relation to my goals.

The other weekend I had a good sort out of my, what-I-call ‘Cupboard of Broken Dreams’, a shame-filled pit of ex-passions and dropped-hobbies.

My painting easel. My photography equipment. My massage table. My Reiki books. My keyboard piano.

All the things that I once loved but struggled to conjure up enough perseverance to keep them going.

Don’t get me wrong; from each of these I have developed a number of useful transferable skills to my career.

There are a few I’m particularly proud of – my painting took me to exhibit in London’s Mall Galleries (and coming runner up), write and publish a book, and be the subject matter of someone’s GCSE project.

There are a few I still take up every now and then – I still enjoy playing the odd tune on the piano, and my friends and I still reap the benefits of a Reiki blast every now and then.

I also enjoy taking photos, and for those who follow my personal account on Instagram will see I love taking photos of homemade dishes and the countryside here in the Peak District.

Have you noticed my photographs in the last couple of posts as their featured image (the image that is displayed when it is shared on Twitter or LinkedIn)?

This was following a re-evaluation of The Avid Doer blog. The visitor count to this is good (and global!) but after nine months of it being up and running, I really want the audience to be wider, to help as many fellow go-get’em professionals as possible.

After doing some research it turns out that people like to share posts on social media that have a nice accompanying image – my posts came with generic and boring imagery that quite frankly wouldn’t encourage anyone to share at all.

So having a rethink, I’ve now combined my enjoyment of taking photos with my passion for professional development by using my photos as the featured image for each Avid Doer post.

Perseverance

This got me thinking about the importance of perseverance. Once you have a career end goal (or goals) in mind, and the right amount of professional motivation, you also need that perseverance.

Persevering with something is the difference between instant relief (letting go of something you’re struggling with, like job hunting) and knowing that you will one day be thankful for not giving up (like finding the perfect job following struggle).

Time is a constant. You can’t control it. It will happen whether or not you’re paying attention.

When you lack perseverance for achieving a professional goal, time doesn’t pause to let you try a different way. You don’t want to persevere because you feel you aren’t getting the results you have anticipated and planned for. So you give up.

But when you give up, time still carries on. That same time that you felt wasn’t going to come by when you wanted that instant assurance.

To give you example, perhaps you want to learn a specific skill like project management. You want to be seen as competent project manager and have a skill that will be higher in demand the more organisations continue to adopt the project management approach in conducting business.

Only the topic is quite tedious. There are three levels you need to complete before you even have a chance to be a full member of one of the project management bodies, APM. You can even self-study, which is still a lot of work and a lot of time.

Possibly in about 12 to 18 months of hard work and knowledge retention, you might achieve it. You start but slow down half way through because it’s just not going at the pace you thought it would.

Or you decide not to take the course because of the length of time.

Time carries on.

Eighteen months into the future, you’ll still be around (touch wood). The difference will be:

  • You have full membership and a set of useful and practical, transferable skills after successfully completing the required exams
  • You’re still studying but slowly understanding the concepts in order to reach your goal eventually
  • You had given up and settled for an easier life (if you started at all!)

This is where perseverance makes a world of difference to your professional development. You will eventually meet the end of those 18 months, and sure they’ll be hard, but will you have regret, or a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and pride?

Giving up

Is there any shame in giving up? Not at all, and this relies only on you. If you realise that the course of action you are taking isn’t going the way you planned, or is never going to lead you onto achieving your goal, then ‘giving up’ could be a smart move (this is, of course, after considering whether or not to change you goal or your efforts, as I’ve written about before).

But without coming across too cheesy, persevering in the right circumstances lead you onto bigger things – whether that is by meeting your goal exactly or introducing you to new and exciting opportunities even when the goal isn’t what you expected.

So what are the right circumstances?

Below is a list of ideas you should consider whether or not to persevere:

  • Regardless of the effort needed, will you eventually meet your goal?
  • Are you just looking for an easy way out?
  • Are you jeopardising your career for the sake of an easier route?
  • Have you tried every alternative way of doing something before deciding to quit?
  • Will you regret giving up this time next year?
  • Will you regret not giving up this time next year?
  • What is the impact of giving up (positive and negative)?
  • What is the impact of persevering (positive and negative)?
  • Have you asked for help?

The final point is such an important one (as are most of my bulleted lists – I need some sort of segway into the next paragraph!).

Deciding to persevere or quit comes after a lot of thinking and mulling, and most times to a point of analysis paralysis, where you have thought of every scenario and outcome that now your thinking is just stunned into paralysis or caught in a thought circle.

The best way to prise yourself out of this is asking for help. Talk to someone – your other half, a friend, a close colleague, your mentor, your manager. Sounding out your thoughts to a fresh pair of ears not only helps you articulate your concerns so that you can hear them outside of your noisy head, you get to hear an outsider’s perspective and their thoughts on the matter.

Whether it’s a pep talk, a sympathetic ear, or a stiff (verbal) slap across the face, they might be able to help you see your situation from a different perspective.

If you’re like me and have a million ideas swirling around your head, delegate your thoughts. Offload your snippets of ideas and concerns to someone else who will help you piece them together in a logical and coherent way.

After considering all of these points and understanding the impact of giving up and persevering you should then begin to understand the next steps you need to take. Being an avid doer isn’t enough. We’re happy to slog our guts and get dirty to achieve what we want to achieve, but perseverance helps us through the tough bits and helps keep our avid doing focussed.

I’m definitely persevering with my blog (not that I thought about giving it up!). It makes me happy, it helps and teaches the readers and visitors it does attract, it develops me as a professional, and I’m confident that I will stumble upon more exciting professional opportunities in the future as it already has so far.

Persevere with perseverance – if all the signs point to success one way or another (and yes, even if it’s hard), then it can only be a good thing.

 

Personal branding for professionals

Did you know that 85% of people find new jobs through their existing contacts? It stands to reason that as working patterns and practices in general are changing with the modern world, so too are the methods in which people are finding these opportunities. One way to make sure you’re well thought of throughout your network is by having a strong personal brand.

Personal branding (the term is quite buzzwordy yet annoyingly apt) is how you present yourself in a professional capacity both in real life and online, and not only aids you in your job hunt, but also builds your professional persona throughout your HR career, or any career.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about building your professional credibility by immersing yourself into a wealth of information and applying it in real life, for example in the workplace or online discussions on the topic du jour.

It’s important to follow this through into building your personal brand and how other professionals perceive you. This isn’t about getting ‘Likes’ on your social media posts, or having your quippy insights retweeted – this isn’t a sign of approval.

In fact, you don’t need external approval. If you want to maximise what the online and real world have to offer, what you need is a strong personal brand.

This is no easy feat. You will quickly find you are potentially a mere whisper in an overcrowded stadium of loud ruckus , so it’s important to focus on the realisation that your intentions aren’t necessarily to be heard, but they are to be seen.

Seen and not heard

What is the difference between being seen and being heard? In a modern world where everyone has an opinion on everything, voicing this is nothing ground-breaking.

It is possible to be heard over all the social hubbub but before you can be heard, you need to be seen.

And to be seen – the unequivocal separation from being heard – you need to build up, or upon, your strong personal brand. Your personal brand is:

  • your core principles
  • your work ethic
  • your ethics
  • your opinions
  • your knowledge
  • your enthusiasm
  • your skills
  • your background
  • your career
  • your social decorum
  • your integrity
  • your aspirations
  • your professional motivation
  • your focus
  • your intentions
  • your connections

These are not exhaustive, but hopefully you’re getting an understanding of how deep this can go. It’s essentially who you are as a professional, what you stand for, and how you go about it.

Luckily (perspective-dependent) building your personal brand doesn’t involve excessive amounts of actionable exercises – the things that make up your personal branding aren’t really physical…things to fix or work on.

It does however take ongoing conscious effort (which becomes less effortful as time goes by) and self-awareness of your actions, and below, I touch on just a few small pointers that you can be thinking about.

Social media introductions

Introductions on social media are a funny thing and I’m slowly getting to grips with the correct netiquette myself. Luckily, the HR and L&D tribe are a friendly bunch so I’m fine-tuning my introductions on social media which takes me further than I expected, but this is of course true to many other ‘tribes’.

Whether it’s a response to recent followers of replying to a comment, the first impression you make on social media is open for all to see, not just the recipient.

Being helpful, insightful and genuinely interested are what you’re aiming for, but also showing your personality and what you’re professional purpose is.

Social interactions

Following on from the previous point, how you come across in your general conversations in your social interactions, online or IRL, will paint a picture of your professional persona to all those who observe it.

This will help them determine whether or not to trust you, converse with you, or become a key member of your network. All of your debates, opinions, views and debates are open for everyone to see, and I encourage you not to shy away from voicing your opinions on things you are passionate about.

This itself builds your personal brand and attracts other professionals that share the same view, or educates them on your own perspective. Your personality in general should shine through, so if you’re funny, serious, passionate or laid back, let this contribute to your personal brand.

Your social network

The members of your network also contribute to your personal brand. The people and companies you follow (on social media) show a different side to your brand – your interests, your colleagues, your role models, your supporters, your political preferences, your professional intrigue, companies and people you admire, potential employers, potential business partners – listed together on one block tells onlookers a lot about you.

Experience and professional history

Where you have worked and the experience you picked up along the way develops your personal brand. You have a very specific formula of your experiences by working at very specific companies, and with each of those came their organisational culture.

How you reacted and adapted to this has shaped your personality and work ethic and in turn your personal brand. You might have also developed your brand in a particular niche market by only working in a specific industry, or specialised roles.

Think about what these previous experiences tell onlookers should anyone look you up on, for example LinkedIn, and in a job-hunt capacity, what your brand can do for potential employers with these experiences.

Qualifications and training

Similar to the previous point, your select and specific set of skills and qualifications contribute to your personal brand. In a more evident, in-your-face way this is more apparent with any post-nominals you may have.

How you have approached your training also depicts your personal brand; self-funded or funded by work? Clear strategic escalation of levels or different qualifications at the same level? Relevant qualifications or seemingly irrelevant qualifications? Loads of qualifications or none?

Professional community contribution

You will also need to consider the activities you do outside of the day job and think about what extra-curricular activities you do and how this contributes to, and even strengthens your personal brand.

If you do any at all, this alone is enough to tell people something about your brand, specifically that you’re dedicated to the profession, or volunteering, or being more socially or environmentally responsible, for example.

Or if your activities are dedicated to researching various or specialist fields and topics and contributing your thoughts and views on these to the wider professional community.

Or if you do none of the above and contribute very little.

These just touch the surface of the number of question and considerations you can begin to think about when firstly being aware of your personal brand and then how this is perceived to other professionals.

Again, this really isn’t about seeking approval or making sure you show off all your best bits. Indeed showing some of your fails and struggles contribute massively and positively to your personal brand, demonstrating that you are learning along the way as is everybody else.

But this is generally to make you become more conscious of the areas of your professional persona can come across as, how it can steer you to greater opportunities, and how to identify potentially harmful turn-offs.

This is particularly important for HR professionals as I find the HR community are very keen to network and learn from their peers. As natural people-people (most of us anyhoo), we value community and the people that make up that community, and by having a strong and authentic professional brand, it can help you settle into the right sort of community that share your views and aspirations, as well as opening doors for new opportunities.

Creating a CV with impact

A friend mine recently asked me to have a look at her CV for an amazing role she had seen, one that could offer them a huge opportunity and better job stability. Having seen hundreds of CVs in my working life, and being part of recruitment campaigns, I was more than happy to give her CV a once-over; changing things, adding things, getting rid of things, making suggestions.

I was thrilled to bits to hear that not only did she get invited to an interview (the biggest hurdle for any job search), she also got the job! I absolutely can’t take any credit for this in any way as she had all the qualities and skills needed for the role but the importance of portraying these skills in a way that has impact to those tediously looking at one CV after another inspired me to share with you how to re-format your CV to get recruiters’ attention.

Before I crack on, just a note on composing your CV in general: the best CVs are put together with a specific role in mind. This can either be your ideal role that you’re focussing all of your efforts on going for but haven’t seen yet and applying for no other type of roles other than this, or, even better, for a specific job in response to an advert you have seen. The extra hard work and effort will increase your odds and will be recognised by the recruiter.

If you’re going for the same sort of roles in specific niches like L&D, recruitment or HR advice, the changes you will have to make each time will be extremely minimal.

Job spec

Before embarking on CV feng shui, you need to have a look at the job spec on the advert. Really get to understand the sort of candidate they’re looking for by the way they compose the priority of skills – the crux of the role will be listed as the first lot of skills, any after that are still essential but just not the things they’re keeping a watchful eye out for.

Don’t forget, if you’re not 100% sure what they’re looking for, get in contact with them and find out. When you are sure what they want, begin to list the key skills, abilities and experience they’re looking for. If the spec is written well, you might find that this is just as useful instead of a hand written list.

Your key skills section

Now you know what they’re looking for, you can start creating a ‘key skills’ section. This is such an underused part of the CV but proves incredibly helpful for arousing intrigue.

Placed at the beginning of the CV, this section acts like a synopsis of you and your career. Like how readers look at the back of the book before going through the book, the key skills section of your CV gives the recruiters a taster of what’s to come, and why they should read on. You don’t need to worry too much about proving or demonstrating your skills as these will all be detailed in the specifics of your CV, like employment history.

For now, you can put together your key skills by ‘responding’ to the advert’s blueprint of the perfect candidate. For example, if they’re looking for someone who has experience in rolling out a new payroll platform, and you have that experience, brag about it as an item in the ‘key skills’ section. Don’t leave it until they get to the nitty-gritty of your employment history that might not even get looked at if you’ve already lost the recruiter’s interest.

And if they need someone to speak to all people at all levels, brag about how you are a strong communicator to all levels, appropriate to various audiences. Use each skill they’re looking for as a question that your skills can answer.

Putting together about eight to ten bullet points should be enough and must ALL be relevant to the job you are applying for. To halve the space this will take up, format this section as a double column.

Employment history

Like you did with your key skills, go back to your job spec and respond to it through the experience and skills you picked up with each employer. I would recommend putting these into bullet points which makes it easier to read, and start off with the doozies that will really carry the recruiter’s interest after such an intriguing ‘key skills’ section. Make it look as though this CV and your experience have led you up to this point that will not only meet the needs of the role, but demonstrate you can carry it so much further.

When listing your experience, the usual mechanics are the same:

  • Lots of strong verbs that resolve issues you expect to come across in the advertised role
  • Demonstrate these verbs by explaining the results you were responsible for, as well as the bad consequences that were avoided
  • Key metrics – ‘reduced queries by 40%’, ‘improved productivity by 50%’ etc.
  • Any new skills, development and ways of working you learned while being in the role that you can now bring to this role
  • One or two relevant key achievements per role that you’re personally proud of (…but really to make you look like the bee’s knees to the recruiter)

Qualifications

You might have guessed by now what I’m going to say next. Have a look at the job spec and see what qualifications they are looking for, and if you have these (or currently studying for them) put these at the top if it’s chronologically appropriate. If the key qualifications they’re looking for aren’t the most recent you have earned, you might want to have a small blurb at the beginning of this section about how you are ‘an X-qualified professional’, or the like, before listing all of your qualifications and relevant training.

If you haven’t already, have a look at the post I wrote on undergoing training for which work hasn’t paid. In it, I talk about how you can use seemingly irrelevant qualifications and training to your advantage by listing the skills you learned from it and suggest how these can be transferred over. Just be sensible about this and avoid any far-fetched crossovers just for the sake of including these.

In the same post, I also talk about how good it looks for recruiters who see candidates fund their own training. It shows dedication, initiative and forward-thinking, as well as taking the profession seriously. You have identified where you wanted to be and went ahead and made sure you got there by paying for your own training.

Just think of how omitting this fact is such a wasted opportunity – spell it out on your CV, even with ‘self-funded’ in brackets after the qualification. I paid for most of my professional qualifications and by heck will I brag about it on my CV!

References

Just to touch briefly on the last section of any CV, I wouldn’t worry about adding referees’ details on your CV, unless you need to fill up space. A usual ‘references available upon request’ would be enough, and odds are you will have to provide this information on a separate form again if you’re successful anyway.

What about interests and hobbies?

If you do relevant volunteer work, or do any industry-related extracurricular activities in your own time, this is what you should add in this section, but rename it as ‘Volunteering’ or ‘Additional work of relevance’. This again shows initiative and dedication to working hard in an industry you’re passionate about, and your CV is the perfect opportunity to be proud of these achievements.

I personally never see the relevance or the impact listing your hobbies can have on your CV. Not only do they take up space on your CV, they’re just not necessary. They’re nice to know about a candidate but you honestly can’t expect a recruiter to give you a shot if you lack all the important skills because you so happen to love needle craft too, can you?

More devastatingly, what if you struck all the right chords with the recruiter and you end on a really flat list of your love of ‘puppies, and kittens, and baking, and holidays with my friends’. What positive impact can this provide? What if the recruiter hates all of these things, is there a risk their unconscious bias might hold them back from inviting you to an interview? Personally, I don’t think hobbies and interests end on a professional note and should be kept out, and maybe used as an ice breaker in the interview.

Format

One last thing – save and send your CV in no other format than PDF. I can’t stress how much more of a professional impact this will have on the recruiters. In one of my previous roles, the recruiter had told me that my PDF CV immediately stood me out amongst the other applicants who had sent theirs as a Word document (as well as my general awesomeness, obv’).

Word documents can easily be edited, the formatting can easily be skewed if the recruiter has a different version, and it can potentially suggest that you like to put a lot of effort into a piece of work without doing the final flourish that finishes it off. Just on the safe side though, save a Word version too. Not only is this so that you can edit it later (and then save as a new PDF), but frustratingly some recruiting software doesn’t accept PDF documents.

How you put together the components in your CV, and how they’re laid out is up to you, only I thoroughly recommend using the ‘key skills’ section at the very beginning. I’ve included a very basic infographic at the end of this post as an example of a simple layout, and is quite similar to my own. No need to complicate the structure with graphics or clever design.

As mentioned, structuring your skills and experience in response to specific roles can seem tedious but it dramatically increases your chances for invites to interviews. Odds are the changes are very minimal if you know what sort of roles you’re going for.

Good luck with your job hunting!

 

CV format

Establishing professional credibility

I’m lucky enough to be part of a tribe of fellow avid doers – HR professionals. We tend to be just as enthusiastic about practising as we are preaching, as well as having a professional drive to lead, manage and develop our careers in confidence. I see an HR professional as a person, regardless of their role, and not a person who has an HR role.

A lot of this is down to having professional credibility. For those who are striving to get into the HR industry, have just started, or need a boost to the next level, they need to establish this professional credibility.

Professional credibility sits at the core of any person, in any profession, and acts as your career’s reputation. This can be easy to establish for those who have years of experience and contacts, with a wall full of framed qualifications to match.

But for those who have little or no experience, proving your professional credibility is that little bit harder. Sometimes this can be down to:

  • age (due to less years of experience rather than an ageist assumption that younger workers are less professionally credible) – years of experience can only come with age, but only if we’re looking at it quantitively; those who have to wait for Father Time can rest assured knowing that the best experience, like a lot of things, relies on quality;
  • lack of confidence – lack of confidence correlates with lack of knowledge. We lose confidence when we’re unsure of things: the direction of a conversation; the specifics of a particular topic; the reactions of others;
  • lack of drive – sometimes it can be a result of just not having the get-up-and-go needed to develop credibility, having an expectancy of it rather than working at it.

So if you do have the get-up-and-go, and you want to work on the first two points, two steps to establish professional credibility are:

  1. Immersion
  2. Application

Immersion

Breaking into a new profession, finding your feet with it, or looking for ways to progress within it is no easy feat. Immersion is one really good way of making this a lot easier.

So what do I mean by immersion? Immersion looks at immersing yourself into the industry, any industry, by being a human sponge. Absorb everything and anything about it to the point of obsession by researching into everything about it. Books, magazines, social media conversations, blogs, contacts, short courses, long courses, podcasts, videos – anything you can get your teeth into.

A lot of industries have become saturated with the internet making it easy for everyone to have a platform (even simple dorks like me!). While some people might think this is a bad thing, I like to see it in a more positive light.

You see, when starting out, or building on your professional credibility, you feel like you need to know more than you currently do. But with anyone being able to talk about any old gobbledygook, who do you listen to?

I say: ‘everyone’. While you have a blank (or more blank than you would like) canvas, there is no telling who to listen to or who to ignore. By absorbing everything and immersing yourself into that world, you begin to form opinions of your own, to link multiple ideas together, to spot discrepancies in arguments. In time, you’ll then have all the information to hone in on the methodologies and ideas that make sense to you and that you believe in; you’re not excluding the left over bits, you’re actually using them to establish the grounding of your understanding of the topic.

You’re gathering everything you need to know to a point where you can start to reject and question findings based on your own knowledge you have suddenly developed and not on other people’s thought patterns.

And to think, if you had decided to ask someone else for their opinion on who to listen to and ignore, you would’ve only been given their ideas, their opinions, thus losing out on all the other information and the opportunity to form an opinion and way of thinking that’s uniquely you.

Having worked in a number of industries and made a go at a number of careers, I have always immersed myself in these (…well the interesting ones anyway) with this method. Accounting, holistic therapy, and health and safety? Courses, research, qualifications and industry-related media for all the above. And ditto for HR where the immersion exercise grabbed me, enthralled me and adopted me. Which takes me to the second step.

Application

After immersing yourself in the profession and you feel like you have a good understanding, even at a foundation level, so much so to form opinions, acceptance and rejections, all this knowledge you have needs to be used to establish your credibility.

By applying this knowledge, you’re demonstrating everything you have discovered; most of the time this can be done passively – you’ve immersed yourself so much into the field, it is second nature and can be applied by discretionary effort.

Being more active about it involves some creative thinking and understanding your intentions and goals so that these actions are aligned to them. Actively establishing your professional credibility takes a lot of effort and mental energy so you need to be aware of the direction your efforts are taking you and that they’re lined up to what you want in your career (have a look at this post on professional motivation if you need a hand with this).

Applying your new-found knowledge is essentially putting your understanding to practice, putting it out into the world in real life scenarios which in time gives a grounding to your credibility.

There are a vast array of ideas to apply your knowledge:

  • contribute your own opinions and findings to work conversations, debates and meetings (thereby proving that you are someone who knows their stuff and can contribute your own unique perspective to work matters)
  • putting yourself forward to lead projects, talks and meetings (thereby building your confidence in taking your knowledge a step further to ‘leader’ rather than just ‘thinker’)
  • allowing your own skills and knowledge to shine through your daily work, as well as supporting other teams and projects that may not necessarily fall under your remit (thereby demonstrating you can apply your professional know-how to your role, developing it into your own, as well as applying it in unfamiliar territory and other specialisms)
  • contribute to blog posts, articles and profession-related online forums (thereby developing a network and contributing your opinions and voice to a wider audience, outside of work)
  • finding your voice through a number of extracurricular activities outside of work, for example starting your own blog, actively managing your online presence and putting yourself forward to write, speak and facilitate on areas of interest (thereby establishing yourself as a professional dedicated to their specialism, strengthening your reputation, and forever developing your own skills, knowledge and confidence)

These are just a few examples of establishing your professional credibility both inside and outside of work. It’s a good idea to ensure you put yourself out there beyond your place of employment, even if you intend to stay there for the foreseeable future, as not only is it a great way to network, you get to learn from so many people who think differently to your organisation. And if you are thinking of leaving in the foreseeable future, this is a great way to progress in your career in your chosen area.

Building integrity

Applying your knowledge to establish your professional credibility can only work when you are trusted and have integrity. Establishing credibility and trust are logically synonymous but sometimes forgotten. If you are seen as someone who lacks integrity and trust, your knowledge, regardless of its ground-breaking qualities, will fall on deaf ears. People will just not believe you and not take the time to listen to what you have to say. As a side note, if for whatever reason you need to establish yourself as a trustworthy professional, work on this first before applying your knowledge.

Establishing your professional credibility can be good fun. Indeed, I’m having immense fun establishing my own professional credibility; writing this blog is just one way I’m doing this. It takes time and the end result is barely measurable but having patience, and trusting the process, the steps your making day by day to put yourself out there as a professional dedicated to the profession, will inevitably pay off.

 

Recording yourself to improve your verbal communication

I’m delivering this post, very aptly, as a video post today in which I talk about recording yourself to improve your verbal communication.

In this video, I cover:

  • The benefits of recording yourself, including getting over the ‘umms…’, getting used to your voice, and being conscious of your body language
  • How the recording set up is easier than you think
  • What to say when you’re recording yourself
  • And the things to avoid.

I’m hoping to do more of these video posts every now and then. Let me know what you think!